I am in Africa and for some reason unknown to me…. Africa is me as well. I have dreamed of today since I was a child. I have always hunted. It has been a part of my life since my grandfather took me to our ranch as a young boy and taught me how to handle a gun safely. I am fourth generation Texan and it is part of our heritage. I am a product of my grandfather in many ways.
There were always rules. They were simple but they made the difference…. they certainly made the difference today.
The first rule was that you never…. not for any reason ever, did you point a gun at anything you didn’t intend to shoot. That was especially true for people. I had a bb gun. I got it on Christmas morning and i lost it on Christmas afternoon. Some lessons take some learning. It was a good lesson. Just the act of accidentally pointing it in the wrong direction was enough to know that i had let my granddad down. There were only two directions…up and down…and of course, the last direction which was aimed at what you intended to shoot. It was alright to aim and not shoot…in fact, it was preferred because you didn’t want to just shoot things…although i really did just want to shoot things. That’s what led to the second rule.
You eat what you shoot. That will do one of two things to any young boy. Either his food preferences will expand dramatically, or he will not shoot his bb gun very much. I learned to eat everything. I tried turtles, birds, frogs, snake but couldn’t bring myself to eat the lizards. Even for a 9-year-old…there is a limit.
The third rule was harder…. keep your guns put up and keep them clean. But as a 9-year-old…you need your gun handy…just in case…. i mean you never really know when someone or something might need defending. That’s what cowboy movies were all about and they were my heroes. They righted wrongs, saved damsels, captured bad guys and rode around on their horses looking for bad guys. Of course, they also met some awesome ladies in the process but i was 9 and didn’t care about that very much.
You learn a lot in the woods. You learn to listen and be observant. You learn to be quiet but i never did learn to sit still and to this day i find sitting still hard to do. Then i joined cub scouts and later boy scouts and did well as i helped lead our troop for several years. I loved the outdoors and knew that i was more alive there than anywhere else. It’s still the same.
A few months ago, i got a call from a friend of mine who i had hunted with in Africa before. On one of our earlier trips we visited orphanages, remote villages and schools. My friend since 2nd grade and i had carried medicines to the most remote villages i could have ever dreamed of. We heard lions roaring at night and saw their tracks outside our “hut” the next morning. It was not a safe place and it was little wonder that everyone was inside their mud huts with thatch roofs before dusk each evening. No one went outside at night. I certainly didn’t either and i had a gun with me most of the time. I could only imagine what they must have felt like without a weapon of any sort to protect themselves or their families. In one place in Zambia next to the Luanga river a man was killed by a lion a couple of weeks before we got there and the day after we arrived a young 31-year-old mother was killed by an elephant while she was gathering firewood for her family. On average, the villages lose 2 people per month. It wasn’t a safe place to be for sure. The dangers weren’t from other people but from the wildlife. Lions, hippos, elephants and crocodiles were the ever-present dangers that the villagers faced each and every day. I also find it interesting that so many people have no idea how many lions and elephant there are today. In the Luanga valley alone there is an estimated 70,000 elephant and anyone who cares to check can quickly learn that the Kruger national park in south Africa also is very overpopulated. They not only destroy the environment making it inhabitable for any other species, but they also kill people…. yes, even today.
We were doing what we loved most….serving people, feeding people, providing medicines and learning lots of lessons from villagers who knew so much about their world than i could imagine. Every day was a lesson.
We set our plans for the end of June and first week of July. Then we heard about some problem lions that needed to be taken out and we were excited about the opportunity to do something that would also serve the local people. Hunting does several things that most people don’t understand. First, you are a very real threat to poachers in the field. Because you are walking all day you come across snares, pitfalls, traps, wire and cable traps and sometimes the poachers themselves. This happened to us as well and having the government game scout with us to discipline the boys that were caught was a sobering experience. If they had been part of one of the poaching rings it would have been a fatal encounter rather than the stern beating they received from the game scout and tracker. One of the greatest benefits of hunters being in the field is they go where others won’t go and they stop poaching in the process…they are off the beaten path and they are providing jobs and food as well as large amounts of money for the local areas.
I am a conservationist and am totally committed to game management and sustainment.
Yesterday, my friend found one of the problem lions. Or better yet, let me say that our tracker found him. We got out of the truck and began what would be a very long stalk in the field. At last, we caught a glimpse of him. We were both stunned at the size of the lion. As he stood there i realized that his back was probably level with my waist….I’m 6’2″ and he easily weighed twice my weight or more. That is when Dawie kemp (our guide) set the shooting sticks and said, “that’s him…. shoot”. It’s amazing how everything can change so quickly. My friend ran after him with the tracker and when he got his next chance he quickly took him down. Now, there was one more to try to find.
This morning we got up at 6:30 and quickly downed some coffee and started driving the roads to try to find the lion we needed to take. My friend was with me…as he has been on our life’s adventures since we were kids. Dawie was guiding and Justin van der burg (Dawie’s partner) was running the video. We had driven for a while and were following the tracks in the sand when i looked up and saw him about 100 yards off the track. He saw us too and took off running. We unloaded and got ready to track him. I have never seen someone read tracks like Patrick could. I was walking as fast as i could and it was tough keeping up with him in the sand…the trick was that he was also tracking a lion and watching to be sure that he didn’t get killed in the process. We saw him ahead about 150 yds and i thought i might get him then, but the shot wasn’t a clear one. There is only one thing that is worse than Hunting a problem lion….hunting a wounded one. He turned and ran again. We were on his track instantly but now we knew that he would be looking for us so the game was intense.
Then, he simply stepped out, looked at us and vanished again. As we continued to follow his tracks we knew that the most dangerous part of the day was just beginning….he would be waiting for us. Dawie said, “he will circle back and try to kill one of us by hiding in the bushes”.
Patrick was in front of me about 2 feet and to my right about 3 feet. I thought i saw something in the bush just to Patricks right when he kept walking straight ahead. Just as he passed the form in the bushes, i saw the lions eyes following Patrick and his head turn ever so slightly. He was less than 6 feet from me.
My granddad was right. I miss him….but i learned from him.
I instantly aimed and shot just behind his head trying for a heart shot that would kill him. His roar was more felt than heard as he exploded straight up with his right front leg reaching high and his left leg half way up….he jumped to a height of 3 feet over my head….Dawie was to my right and couldn’t get a shot although he was only feet from him.
While he was in the air, he rotated and landed running full out away from us. I took another shot as he disappeared in the brush. We had made it this far…now we had to find him. Remember the part earlier about the only thing worse than hunting a problem lion…hunting a wounded one!!!!! Well, here we go.
As we stalked him with Patrick following his tracks we could hear him growling. Then Dawie said, “get ready, here he comes”. It’s a strange feeling when you are know that a lion is coming for you….it’s not fear but intense focus. We were waiting for him to show himself and then the sounds stopped.
We waited but could still hear him within 50 yards of us…but we couldn’t see him. As we moved forward, we had to check each bush, every clump of grass, every shadow or depression in the sand knowing that he could hide in any of those places and be on us in less than a second. He had already proven that he could get closer than i could have ever guessed. Dawie and i both saw him behind a bush about 30 yards away…. they can cover that distance is less than 3 seconds. I shot him again and he jumped up and ran as my Friend and Dawie both shot at him. We knew we had hit him at least twice and probably more. But, he had vanished.
Again, we couldn’t see him, and we knew he was hiding. Then we saw him again and this time i quickly shot him in the shoulder. There he died. One of the most amazing animals i have ever seen and by far the most dangerous. I know this may sound somewhat odd to many people but each of us shared a deep sense of respect for him as he lay there. Yes, he had been a problem…but he was also a lion and lion’s do what lion’s do. They kill things. Still, he was amazing in his beauty, strength and size.
I am thankful that no one was hurt and that things went as well as they did. We were close…. real close….to one of the most amazing animals on the planet and we had shared one of the most exciting experiences of our life. Now the big question remains…. are we brave enough to tell our wives what we’ve been doing?
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